Guarding bodies of Mountbatten and teen still haunts me, says garda officer
A garda detective who sat with the bodies of Lord Louis Mountbatten and Fermanagh teenager Paul Maxwell after they were murdered by the IRA has said he can never forget that day.
They were among four people who died after a bomb exploded in a boat as they were fishing off the Sligo coast on August 27, 1979.
Eddie MacHale was on guard duty in the morgue when the bodies were brought in.
Ahead of today's 40th anniversary, he said: "There are some things that never leave you and I will never forget looking at that poor young lad in the morgue.
"He looked so peaceful, young and innocent and what did he ever do to deserve this terrible end?
"Even 40 years on I find it hard to talk about."
August 27, 1979, was one of the bloodiest days in the history of the Troubles.
It started with the bomb attack on Lord Mountbatten's Shadow V fishing boat in Mullaghmore.
Mountbatten, a decorated war hero; Lady Doreen Brabourne, the 83-year-old mother-in-law of the earl's daughter; his 14-year-old grandson Nicholas Knatchbull; and Paul (15), who worked on the boat, were killed.
Just a few hours later the IRA struck again, detonating two bombs at Narrow Water close to Warrenpoint in Co Down, killing 18 soldiers.
A 19th victim - William Michael Hudson (29), a civilian visiting the Republic from London - was hit by a bullet fired by soldiers across the Newry River to where he was standing with his cousin Barry Hudson, who was injured.
Recalling the Mullaghmore attack, Mr MacHale said: "Paul was sitting very close to the engine and didn't have a chance.
"I wonder if those who did this could see what they had done.
"There was many a night I thought of him afterwards and as a parent myself that image still cuts to the bone."
He added: "Lord Mountbatten looked at rest and it was hard to believe that he had met his end out fishing for lobsters after all he had come through as a soldier.
"But there was an eerie kind of silence in the morgue as so many people came and went."
He recalls there was "so much shock and disbelief".
"I was there as a policeman doing my duty but what I saw in that morgue would take tears from a stone," he said.
"In my line of work, you come across deaths, murders, suicides and they can be distressing, but the image of young Paul Maxwell will always be before me."
Meanwhile, Mullaghmore native and historian Joe McGowan said he had a fear of reprisals from loyalists in the immediate aftermath of Lord Mountbatten's killing.
He said that he checked under his boat for explosives in the year after the bomb.
He revealed that he had been fishing with Paul Maxwell just a short period before the attack.
"I was just finishing my house at the time and people were shocked and horrified as it was and is a small peaceful village," he said.
"And we were not expecting something as awful as that for a boat to get blown up.
"I did not see the boat go up."
Mr McGowan recalls rushing down to the harbour and seeing the bodies coming in.
He added: "It was so sad, and the personal connection that I have with it is that I knew Paul Maxwell well and he was fishing salmon with us a few days before the explosion.
"He was a lovely lad and I remember he was a little bit seasick, but he loved boats and it was just so sad what happened."
He added: "I am annoyed that the village has been stigmatised because of what happened."
He also referred to another, largely forgotten, murder.
Margaret Perry (26), from Portadown, had been abducted in June 1991. After a tip from the IRA, her body was found buried in Mullaghmore the following June. She had been beaten to death.
Mr McGowan added: "Margaret Perry was murdered in Mullaghmore, but she is barely remembered.
"She did not have a title, but her life and death should be equally respected and that is not to diminish in the slightest, the horror and suffering of Lord Mountbatten and his family.
"It was a terrible time and we were propelled instantly into world headlines which we did not invite."